Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 58

December 27, 2023 • 12 min read • 254 views

The Cycle of Gratitude and Resentment (Part 2)

As Nam Woo Gyeong stepped out of the room, he saw Lee Gwak and Hwian sitting opposite each other, quietly sipping tea.

“What? You’re already here?”

“I should take my leave now that you’ve come out,”

Hawaiian left his teacup and stood up.

“There’s no need for that, master.”

“No, let the two of you have a comfortable conversation.”

Despite Nam Woo Gyeong’s protests, Hwian left. Watching him go, Lee Gwak thought that he was a very stubborn man.

His insistence on doing what he wanted, regardless of the wishes of others, was certainly frowned upon. However, it was only because of the strength of his martial arts that he could be so confident.

Lee Gwak was reminded again of the laws of the Jianghu.

Looking at Hwian, Lee Gwak was once again reminded of the laws of the Jianghu.

‘Only those with power can act freely in the Jianghu.’

Despite the numerous political machinations and the logic of power in the Jianghu, truly powerful individuals were not bound by any constraints.

After Hwian left, Nam Woo Gyeong flopped down in the seat Hwian had just vacated. He sniffed the air and remarked,

“What’s this? Master has brought out the Mao Feng tea. You’re lucky. It’s rare for him to serve this tea.”

“It seems so,”

Lee Gwak replied with a bitter smile, unaware of the significance.
Nam Woo Gyeong then gulped down the tea Hwian had been drinking.

“This is indeed excellent!”

“I heard you were conversing with a guest. I hope I didn’t interrupt.”

“Interrupt? It wasn’t a conversation meant to be long anyway.”

“Is that so?”

“You came at the right time. I was about to call you.”

“Did you find out?”

Nam Woo Gyeong shrugged.

“Of course. It’s unavoidable if you didn’t know who came in, but if you knew they came in and still couldn’t figure out the reason, then you might as well stick your nose in a dish of water and die.”

“What?”

“Let me ask you something else. Who the hell are you related to?”

“Pardon?”

“Is it Lim Moon hye?”

“Lim Moon hye?”

As Lee Gwak looked puzzled, Nam Woo Gyeong smiled.

“It must be Han So Cheon. The First Squad of the Hidden Blood Squad has only those two women.”

“…”

“You don’t need to be so guarded. At least, I should know who you are moving for, right?”
Lee Gwak remained silent.

Nam Woo Gyeong had incredible insight and intuition, as befitted the man who would lead the next era of Hao Clan. His knack for asking unexpected questions at the most unexpected moments and extract desired answers he wanted was something that Lee Gwak was not yet used to.

“Han So Cheon and Lim Moon hye both belong to the First Squad of Hidden Blood Squad. As I said, there are only those two women in the First Squad.”

“What’s the Hidden Blood Squad?”

“It’s a secret assassination organisation created by the Jade Heaven Alliance. Officially, it doesn’t exist. We wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for you.”

Nam Woo Gyeong’s words were true.

Even with the Hao Clan’s vast intelligence network, they were completely unaware of the existence of the Hidden Blood Squad, which was hidden deep in the shadows. The only reason they were able to discover the Hidden Blood Squad was because of something Lee Gwak had mentioned.

The fact that a trained martial artist from the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall had returned had led them to concentrate their resources and discover the existence of the secret organisation, Hidden Blood Squad.

Such was the secrecy of the Hidden Blood Squad. Even with all of Hao Clan’s capabilities within the Jade Heaven Alliance, all they could find was that the Hidden Blood Squad consisted of three squad, and only the rough composition of the First Squad. They learned about the First Squad because they were inside the Jade Heaven Alliance.

For the remaining two units, they only knew of their existence but not the number of members or even their identities. They couldn’t even guess where they were or what missions they were undertaking.

“Like assassins?”

“Exactly. Training the best agents to the extreme as assassins. Whoever thought of this is truly bold.”

Nam Woo Gyeong’s voice turned sombre.

Assassins were among the most despised in the Jianghu.

Most martial artists preferred open, face-to-face combat. Raised to value honour, they believed that true martial artists should engage in direct confrontation, considering ambushes as cowardly acts.

Naturally, it was exceedingly rare for martial artists trained in conventional methods to become assassins. Even more uncommon was the transformation of top talents from various sects into assassins.

This was the common understanding in the Jianghu.

Nam Woo Gyeong, too, had thought this way until he learned the reality of the Hidden Blood Squad. The shock he felt upon discovering the truth of this organisation was immense.

The Hidden Blood Squad completely defied the norms of the Jianghu, making it even more dangerous.

The individuals with the greatest talent were showing how powerful they could become by mastering the assassins’ killing technique.

Lee Gwak’s eyes sank deeply.

‘So Cheon!’

He had thought it might be possible.

Han So Cheon hadn’t left a trace when she appeared before him or when she disappeared in the morning. Han So Cheon had the traits of an assassin, and he suspected it. However, there was a difference in the intensity of the shock from mere suspicion to confirmation.

“Why was the Hidden Blood Squad summoned?”

“I couldn’t find out the exact reason. But I suspect it’s to prepare for a surprise attack from the Celestial Demon Troupe.”

“Do you think the Celestial Demon Troupe is targeting the Jianghu Tournament?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Such a tempting target, with all these notable figures gathered in one place, doesn’t come along often. If I were the leader of the Celestial Demon Troupe, I would certainly send assassins to stir things up.”

“Hmm!”

“The Jade Heaven Alliance might have summoned the Hidden Blood Squad knowing this. The best way to catch an assassin is another assassin. Whoever thought of summoning Hidden Blood Squad, it’s a brilliant move. The problem is who the Celestial Demon Troupe’s assassin will be. They won’t send just anyone; it’ll surely be someone remarkable. Maybe even a group.”

“…”

“The fight will be dangerous. Battles between assassins are far more brutal than those of regular martial artists.”

Nam Woo Gyeong looked serious.

He was genuinely worried about the Jade Heaven Alliance.

While some called it dogmatic or a necessary evil, the Jade Heaven Alliance was undeniably vital to the Jianghu.

Its existence enabled a balanced war with the Celestial Demon Troupe. If the Jade Heaven Alliance were to be weakened by assassins, it would inevitably affect the struggle against the Celestial Demon Troupe.

“Lee Gwak!”

“Yes!”

“If I may advise, never engage in a fight between assassins. Your martial arts may be strong, but if you recklessly jump into their battle, you might lose your life without even realising how.
The shadowy war they wage is something traditional martial artists cannot handle.”

Nam Woo Gyeong’s words were out of genuine concern. However, they no longer reached Lee Gwak’s ears.

Leaving Nam Woo Gyeong’s house, Lee Gwak headed towards the Jade Heaven Alliance. His face was set hard.

His mind was in turmoil after hearing such shocking news.

“Sigh!”

Lee Gwak let out a sigh without realising.

He was at a loss about how to proceed. For now, he decided to observe and then make a decision.

“Leader!”

“Welcome, Leader.”

As he entered the outer hall dormitory, the thirteenth squad members greeted him with joy. Seeing their faces seemed to alleviate his worries.

After greeting them, Lee Gwak sat down on a bench in the front yard. Ki Jin-hwi sat down next to him and asked

“What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing. By the way, what happened with yesterday’s incident?”

“Yesterday’s incident?”

“Didn’t you follow someone you thought you knew?”

“Oh! That… I was mistaken. It turned out to be someone else. Perhaps I’m getting old. To think presbyopia is setting in already. Ha ha!”

Ki Jin-hwi joked lightly.

Lee Gwak watched him for a moment before turning his gaze to Cheon Wol.

Cheon Wol, after briefly greeting Lee Gwak, continued practising his martial arts. Though it was just basic training, his proficiency indicated his exceptional talent.

Ki Jin-hwi looked at Cheon Wol and clicked his tongue.

“Tsk! What a waste. Such a talent would have shone in the inner or main court, not just here in the outer hall.”

He genuinely felt sorry for Cheon Wol.

Lee Gwak shared Ki Jin-hwi’s sentiments.

Having struggled to master martial arts himself, Lee Gwak felt even more pity for Cheon Wol.

Others, such as Seok Yi Cheon and Go Cheon Gwang, were too old to improve even with a good martial art. Woo Il Yeong was younger, but his enthusiasm for martial arts was not as great.

They were content with their life in the outer sect, rendering any superior martial arts skills useless. But Cheon Wol was different.

He was young and possessed tremendous zeal.

Lee Gwak suddenly thought of the Sun Splitting Sword Art he had with him. He had skimmed through it, deeming it unsuitable for himself and had not practised it.

Perhaps, Lee Gwak thought, the manual might suit Cheon Wol. However, passing it to Cheon Wol immediately seemed premature.

Lee Gwak himself did not fully understand the manual and could not recklessly impart it. He first needed to fully grasp the Sun Splitting Sword Art himself.

Lee Gwak had many concerns to address.

His mind was filled with many concerns.

Lee Gwak lay down on a bench and closed his eyes.

The dazzling sunlight bathed his face.

‘Yes! Let’s resolve this according to the natural order. One step at a time, carefully!’

With that thought, Lee Gwak fell asleep.

***
In front of the Jade Heaven Alliance was the Dongting Lake, the largest in the Jianghu.
Connected to the Yangtze River, the Dongting Lake bustled with numerous boats. From small fishing boats to leisure boats carrying poets and idlers, and even cargo ships laden with immense loads, the variety was immense.

At night, Dongting Lake transformed into a place of dazzling splendour.

With the lanterns lit in the numerous shops, taverns, and inns along the lake’s edge, it was like a field of colourful flowers blooming in the night. The addition of leisure boats lit with lanterns added to the grandeur.

Thus, the lake was busier at night than during the day, with many people enjoying their time on the boats.

“Ha ha ha!”

From a dragon boat floating in the middle of the lake, laughter of courtesans mingled with beautiful music.

The dragon boat was particularly splendid, with many more lanterns than the surrounding boats. On the deck of the dragon boat, dozens of courtesans, musicians, and merchants were sitting and enjoying the breeze.

Among the merry idlers, a middle-aged scholar in blue attire sat alone.

The scholar, with a serene demeanour, quietly composed poetry amidst the laughter and chatter.

Despite the crowd around him, no one spoke to the scholar or offered him a drink. They didn’t even glance his way, as if he were invisible from the start.

It was as if the scholar existed in a different realm, an oddly discordant scene.

Suddenly, a dark shadow leaped from the calm waters, landing on the deck of the dragon boat.

A hush fell over the boat.

The courtesans stopped laughing, the idlers put down their drinks, and the musicians ceased playing, bowing their heads.

As if time had frozen, the scholar set down his cup and looked at the figure that had landed on the deck. The figure knelt before the scholar and said,

“Subordinate Geum Myeong greets the Dark Emissary.”

“Geum Myeong!”

“An honour to meet you.”

“Enough formalities. What about the information I asked for?”

“I’ve obtained the schedule for the Jianghu Tournament.”

“Is that so?”

A hint of a smile appeared on the lips of the man known as the Dark Emissary.

Everyone on the boat shivered as the temperature seemed to plummet suddenly.

Geum Myeong carefully handed a small booklet to the Dark Emissary. After glancing through it, the Dark Emissary stood up.

“This will suffice.”

His ominous smile deepened, chilling the air even further.

Geum Myeong bowed his head even lower.

He was an assassin.

Raised as an assassin from an age he couldn’t remember, he had crossed numerous lines between life and death. Long desensitised to fear or human emotion, he was a man stripped of his humanity.

Yet, in the presence of the Dark Emissary, Geum Myeong felt fear.

The Dark Emissary was a being of a different calibre.

A legend among assassins, he was feared even within the sinister ranks of the Celestial Demon Troupe. There was no one he had set his sights on and failed to kill.

At one point, tired of killing, he had retreated from the forefront. His return to action was spurred by the death of a single man.

“Jin Rak, I will send everyone involved in your death to join you. Don’t be too lonely.”
Iron Monarch Go Jin Rak.

The requiem for his only friend was just beginning.